Celebrating Recent Work by Rhiannon Stephens

February 17, 2023 - 12:00pm–1:15pm

Event organized by the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy

Poverty and Wealth in East Africa by Rhiannon Stephens

In Poverty and Wealth in East Africa, Rhiannon Stephens offers a conceptual history of how people living in eastern Uganda have sustained and changed their ways of thinking about wealth and poverty over the past two thousand years. This history serves as a powerful reminder that colonialism and capitalism did not introduce economic thought to this region and demonstrates that even in contexts of relative material equality between households, people invested intellectual energy in creating new ways to talk about the poor and the rich. Stephens uses an interdisciplinary approach to write this history for societies without written records before the nineteenth century. She reconstructs the words people spoke in different eras using the methods of comparative historical linguistics, overlaid with evidence from archaeology, climate science, oral traditions, and ethnography. Demonstrating the dynamism of people’s thinking about poverty and wealth in East Africa long before colonial conquest, Stephens challenges much of the received wisdom about the nature and existence of economic and social inequality in the region’s deeper past.
This event will be in person at the Heyman Center and live-streamed online. Please register for both in-person and virtual attendance via the link.
Please email disability@columbia.edu to request disability accommodations. Advance notice is necessary to arrange for some accessibility needs.
About the Author
Rhiannon Stephens is an Associate Professor of History at Columbia Unviersity and specializes in the history of precolonial and early colonial East Africa from the late first millennium CE through the twentieth century. She is the author of Poverty and Wealth in East Africa: A Conceptual History (Duke University Press, 2022), an interdisciplinary history of how people living in eastern Uganda have sustained and changed their ways of thinking about wealth and poverty over the past two thousand years. Her first monograph, A History of African Motherhood: The Case of Uganda, 700-1900 (Cambridge University Press, 2013), traced the history of motherhood as a social institution and an ideology across over a millennium of Ugandan political, economic and social change.
About the Speakers
Laura Fair is a historian of twentieth-century urban East Africa and the author of several award-winning books. She teaches in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies. Her scholarship focuses on gendered social and economic change, and urban popular culture in Swahili-speaking communities. Her first book, Pastimes and Politics: Culture, Community and Identity in Post-Abolition Urban Zanzibar, 1890–1945 (Ohio University Press, 2001), illustrates how former slaves used the social and cultural tools at their command to demonstrate their freedom from slavery and articulate alternative visions of justice under colonialism.
Raevin Jimenez is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan. Her work examines the gender history of Nguni-speakers in southern Africa between the 9th-20th century. Over a millennium, Nguni-speakers innovated and reconfigured masculine propriety and male relationships. Changing ideas of gender allowed Nguni-speakers to congregate young men into vast networks, define male identity, establish obligations of men as sons and husbands, and orient junior men towards political and economic opportunities.
Pablo Piccato is a Professor of History at Columbia University. He is the author of City of Suspects: Crime in Mexico City, 1900–1931, published by Duke University Press, and a co-editor of True Stories of Crime in Modern Mexico. His research and teaching focus on modern Mexico, particularly on crime, politics, and culture, and he is currently working on an overview of crime in Mexico during the twentieth century. He has taught in universities in Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and France. 
Caterina Pizzigoni is an Associate Professor of History at Columbia University. She specializes in the colonial history of Latin America. Her interests include indigenous populations and the study of sources in Nahuatl (indigenous language of central Mexico), social history, household and material culture, religion and gender. Her current research focuses on household saints in colonial Mexico.